Early Roman History
As Greece reached the height of its prosperity Rome which lye slightly to the west slowly began its rise as a civilization. The Greeks centered their culture around Art and
literature whereas opposed to the Romans who settled their culture upon warfare and leadership. Without planning, would rise very steadily as an empire. Shortly before Christ most of the surrounding cities and nations were at peace under Rome's rule.
Early Romans kept no written records. Their history is so mixed up with fables and myths that historians have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction. Historians only know of two early works of Roman history, the history of Livy and the Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
The old legends say that Romulus founded the city in 753 BC. Romulus was a mythical person, but there is some evidence that the kings who are said to have followed him actually existed.
Shortly before 600 BC several Etruscan princes from conquered Rome across the Tiber River. Taraquinius Priscus, the first of the Etruscan kings, drained the city’s marshes. Servius Tullius, the second Etruscan king, made a treaty with the Latin cities, which acknowledged Rome as the head of all Latium.
The last king, Tarquinius Superbus, was a tyrant who opposed the people scorned religion. Under the rule of the Etruscans, Rome grew in importance and power. Great temples and impressive public works were constructed. Trade prospered and by the end of the 6th century BC Rome had become the largest and richest city in Italy.
The old Latin aristocracy ended up rebelling against the Etruscan kings. Junius Brutus led the rebellion against Tarquinius Superbus in 509 BC. The young republic was now set out on its long career of almost constant warfare and conquest. At the time it did not seem destined to rule the civilized world. It was only a tiny city-state, much like the city-states that were flourishing at the same time in Greece.
Rome was now well launched on its way to world domination. One conquest led to another. Upper Italy, Sicily, Spain, Macedonia, Greece and Asia Minor were subdued and made Roman provinces. Intoxicated with their sudden rise to power, the new generation of statesmen departed from the wise policies of their great predecessors. They fought ruthlessly and ruined the countries they conquered.
Governors administrated most of the conquered lands. Wealth poured into Rome from all over the world, and the ancient simplicity of Roman life gave way to luxury and pomp. Morals were undermined, and vice and corruption flourished. Enriched office holders acquired estates and bought up the little farms of peasants. Soon the peasants were poor and homeless. The streets of the capital were now flooded with hordes of poverty-stricken people, ruined farmers, discharged soldiers and idlers from Italy.
War of class against class was soon to come. The Gracchi brothers came forward as champions of the people. They proposed laws to redistribute the public lands and to limit the powers of the corrupt and selfish senate. Both men fell victims to their foes, Tiberius in 133BC and Gaius 12 years later. The death of Tiberius marked the beginning of a century of revolution and civil war that ended in establishment of the Roman Empire.
The only thing that saved the vast structure of Roman power from crashing to final destruction was the emergence of two brilliant statesmen, Gaius
Julius Caesar and his great-nephew Agustus (Octavian).
With the establishment of the Empire, the century of civil strife, which had also seen almost constant warfare abroad, was followed by two centuries of profound peace broken only by frontier warfare. At home literature and civilization flourished, and in the provinces responsible men held power. Roman citizenship was extended to all free men throughout the Empire, and Roman law was administered in every court.
The passion for a life of luxurious ease existed in all classes. The rich pleased themselves by giving splendid feasts and the poor had their own similar celebration. In Roman society there were now only the rich and very poor, the middle class had almost disappeared. During this period Christianity had a chance to spread throughout the Western world and art and letters were prized and fostered. However, after the reign of Diocletian the Empire was under an absolute one-man rule. Society had become stagnant - politically, industrially and mentally.
From 180 to 284, the Senate recognized 27 men as emperor. Supported by the Roman legions, many others laid claim to the title. The succession of short
Terms were finally stopped by Diocletian, who established the last of the republican liberties. The Senate was now no more than the city council of Rome. Diocletian also took the first step toward dividing the Empire: he ruled the East and turned over the rule of the west to an associate.
The decline of Rome was complete when Constantine moved his capital to the Greek city of Byzantium on the Black Sea in 330. He renamed it Constantinople in his own honor. The transfer of the capital meant a real division of the Empire. As the long history of the Byzantine Empire began, the old Roman Empire fell into weakness and decline. Gradually the northern barbarians came down into Italy to invade the Empire.
Romulus Agustulus, whose name combined the name of Rome’s legendary founder and that of its first emperor, was the last ruler of the West. When the Byzantine Empire grew transferred its capitol to Greece and as they rose the Romans fell. Finally invasion of barbarians from the north finished the Romans and ended their empire forever.
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